Why plane food tastes so bad

KEEPING IT TOO LONG DOESN'T HELP EITHER: The long time between preparation in the catering kitchen and when they are served to passengers aboard planes causes airline meals to become dry and tough.


    Apr 16, 2014

    Why plane food tastes so bad


    IT IS a question every traveller has asked at some point: Why does airplane food taste so bad? No matter what it is - fish, chicken, even pasta - every meal served in the air seems to taste undeniably worse than its on-the-ground counterpart.

    To get to the bottom of this dilemma, Bloomberg talked to Mr Grant Mickels, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa's LSG Sky Chefs - who had some surprising revelations. Namely: That the food is not really the problem here.

    "At 35,000ft, the first thing that goes is your sense of taste," explained Mr Mickels, saying that the quality of the food and its ingredients are not to blame - it is the way you experience it.

    It has even been tested: The Fraunhofer Institute, a research organisation based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would be delicious in a fine dining restaurant could be, as Mr Mickels put it, "so dull in the air".

    In a mock aircraft cabin, researchers tried out ingredients at both sea level and in a pressurised condition - and the differences in taste were startling.

    The tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere - pressurised at 8,000ft - combined with the cool, dry cabin air "makes your taste buds go numb, almost as if you had a cold", said Mr Mickels.

    Our perception of saltiness and sweetness drops by around 30 per cent at high altitude. It also does not help that the decreased humidity in the cabin dries out your nose and dulls the olfactory sensors essential for tasting the flavour of an ingredient or dish.

    Though your muted taste buds are the main reason behind your unpalatable airline food, its journey from the catering kitchen to your plate does not help, according to Mr Harold McGee, a scientist and the author of On Food And Cooking: The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen.

    After the food is prepared, it is chilled and stored until it is time to load it onto a truck and, finally, onto the plane where it is served to passengers hours later.

    "When food gets warmed up to room temperature or above, it starts to deteriorate, and once it crosses a threshold - 70 deg C for meat, 60 deg C for fish - it is going to be dry and tough, no matter what you do," Mr McGee explained.